|Bodmer’s Stoves has been located in
this stone building since 1976.
Ed and Nancy Bodmer opened a wood stove story in the mid 1970s when they discovered Ashley stoves beat out all the cheaply made stoves on the market. That led to more than four decades selling wood stoves – and experiencing the ups and downs in wood heating in America. Ed and Nancy typify the older generation of stove retailers who spanned the transition from the inefficient, uncertified stoves, to the far more efficient and cleaner ones today.
Unfortunately, by far the biggest heyday for stove sales was in the late 70s and early 80s prior to EPA emission regulations, leaving the country saddled with millions of polluting and inefficient stoves. Retailers like Ed Bodmer have spent decades of their lives helping with the transition to cleaner stoves.
Their store, is also home to Bodmer’s Pottery, run by Nancy and is located in an old, stone building Buckeystown, 10 miles south of Frederick in rural Maryland. We called Ed to talk to him about his experiences over the years and heard many intriguing stories.
Selling a stove store in 2019
“Actually, I didn’t want to sell this year. I wanted to wait until 2020 when I turned 75, but this guy really wanted to the business,” Ed recalled in a phone interview. This guy owns a local heating company and he called Jotul and Vermont Castings to become a dealer. Both of those companies said no, because Ed Bodmer had that territory. So, his only recourse was to buy out Ed, along with all his inventory.
Getting started in the 1970s
“We kind of fell into the business, like many others, when we were just looking for a good woodstove for our own home,” Ed said. They started with Ashley and grew to represent many big-name brands like Pacific Energy, Jotul and Vermont Casting. “We like the kind of people who are willing to cut their own wood and grow their own food,” Ed recalled. That culture was popular in the late 60s and 70s and there is a resurgence in local food today, if not heating with cord wood.
High and lows, and diversifying the business
“The high points in our business were the late 70s, after the oil embargo and after Hurricane Katrina,” Ed said. Katrina was a Category 5 storm that was still strong as it moved north through western Maryland in August of 2005, just before the stove buying season. Another high point that took the Bodmer’s by surprise was the Y2K scare in 2,000, when people thought computer bugs related to the date change from one century to the next may cause major power outages and other societal breakdowns. The lows were the mid 1980s after the oil embargo ended and fossil fuel prices went back down during what was then called the “oil glut.”
Ed and his wife Nancy focused on running a good business from August to February so that they could have time to garden, travel and enjoy life. They decided not to diversify into patio and barbecue products and instead focused on their core product: stoves.
The ups and downs with pellet stoves
Bodmers carried pellet stoves for many years, but demand was not consistent, and they got out of the pellet stove business several years ago. They carried the top brands, including Harman, but even so, the repair issues were always so much higher than with wood stoves. “I’d sell a wood stove and didn’t see the person for another 20 years, when they came back to buy a newer one,” Ed recalled.
|Nancy Bodner ran a successful
pottery business out the store.
Cat vs. non-cat and first time vs. repeat customers
Ed was very interested in our question about what percent of buyers were replacing older stoves compared to first time stove buyers. “I’d say it’s about 50-50,” Ed told us. Bodmers had a lot of repeat customers, but unlike retailers of most consumer goods, the stove buyer only comes back every 20 – 30 years. But that meant a lot to Ed, and he really enjoyed those customers who he had sold to in the 1980s or 1990s. A lot of them who bought one of the original catalytic Vermont Castings wanted another catalytic Vermont Castings. Ed told us that a lot of his customers did their research and knew that a catalytic stove would give a longer burn and higher efficiency, and that is what they wanted. “So, we always sold a lot of catalytic stoves,” he said.
The 50% of his customers who were first time buyers also got a wood heat lesson from Ed, to ensure that they knew how to use the stove well. “We don’t have a lot of young customers,” Ed said. “Most were between 30 and 60, but one guy and his wife both in their 70s just bought a new stove because they love the heat and couldn’t live without it.”
The Maryland stove rebate program
Ed said that the Maryland stove rebate program was not that much of an incentive for his customers, many of whom did not want to pull a permit and or have the professionally installed. Bodmers used to do installations in house but has used an independent installer for the last 6 years. (The Maryland rebate program is far more used by pellet stove buyers because they get a much higher rebate.)
Inventory and the 2020 EPA emission standards
Ed told us that he had very little inventory that was not 2020 compliant and it would not be hard to get rid of it before June 2020. Bodmer’s is not an HPPA member currently but has been in the past. By staying in close touch with the manufacturers of the stoves he sells, he has stayed abreast of all the recent changes the industry is going through. He said that ordering and receiving new stoves has become even easier these days, and he could order a few Vermont Castings, for example, and have them in the store quickly. He also didn’t seem too worried about June 2020, when the stricter emission standards kick in. “I heard Jotul just won a Vesta award for an upgraded Oslo and I look forward to seeing that” Ed told us. He currently has an older Oslo in his home. The only question Ed had about the 2020 deadline was whether there would be another a price increase, which would be hard for some of his price sensitive customers.